Pursuit is a sports feature series highlighting athletes, coaches, and staff and significant sporting events from North Bay and the surrounding area.
Kennedy Joyce is hoping to use the 2023-24 season as her comeback story. After sitting out the entire 2022-23 season due to an ACL injury, Joyce is getting ready to get back on the court and play for the Nipissing University Lakers Women's Basketball team.
"It was September 26th, 2022. We had just come off our alumni weekend, and I just landed funny in practice, I didn't know at the time that it was anything serious. I was planning on getting up and walking it off. But it wasn't easy to get up off the floor. I went to our athletic therapists right away and Mackenzie Daily, who's got a great working knowledge of how to treat knee injuries, had a feeling right away that it was probably a torn ACL," says Joyce.
After getting a few MRIs done and seeing a surgeon the recovery process was on.
"An ACL tear is not something that will repair itself. You, have to get it surgically repaired. I knew that meant I wasn't going to be playing this season because it was a long wait for the surgery and after surgery, it's still about 6 to 8 months of recovery."
Joyce had the surgery in February 2023 and on her recovery journey she learned some valuable lessons while watching from the sidelines and under the guidance of Head Coach Rachel Van Woezik.
"I got to see the game from a coaching perspective, and I think that is a cool position to be in," says Joyce. "I think I learned a lot about the game, and it was honestly just really exciting to see all my teammates and my friends succeeding so much. I also had a lot of support from Rachel and the coaching staff, they were really good with the injury. I never felt like I was left out or wasn't a part of the team."
Van Woezik, a former Lakers player who also dealt with an ACL tear during her university career, has been a mentor and inspiration to Joyce both on and off the court.
"Rachel herself tore her ACL when she was playing and so she had genuinely been through it before," says Joyce. "She really has an ability to connect with players. She's brought this idea of community and bringing together individual players' values as sort of a collective. It makes our team a welcoming community for players and that instills confidence and competitiveness, but as a collective group. We're competing for the same goals. She also played at Nipissing, which is really cool. She's been great for the program. We've already seen a lot of change with her."
Van Woezik is in just her second year coaching the team but as Joyce pointed out, she has started to evolve the identity of the Lakers women's basketball program. She also encouraged Joyce to get involved in the Students Athletic Council at Nipissing University.
"Rachel asked if I wanted to be a part of that and I said yeah, that sounds cool, I'd love to. So, we started going to meetings last year, mostly run by our Athletic Director Vito Castiglione, with the idea of the council bringing together players from all the teams to give feedback on how to enhance the student-athlete experience."
Joyce says Castiglione opened the idea of having one student take the lead as president and Joyce says she was happy to put her name forward. As the President of the Student Athletics Council, Joyce is committed to bringing the athletic community together and giving a voice to all student-athletes. She believes that athletics should be an inclusive and supportive environment, and she is dedicated to making that a reality.
"I think having a bit more of an athlete's perspective from the leadership side of the council is also great. It's not just the department, it's getting more involvement from the athletes. I've stepped into that position and now it's about getting people together, running events and building community engagement to give all of the athletes a way to come together and be involved in their university."
Joyce originally hails from Kingston, Ont., and says she was drawn not only to the university's basketball program but also to the university's social work program which aligns with her career aspirations. Joyce says she has always been motivated by her desire to help others, and she believes that playing basketball and pursuing her education at Nipissing will enable her to do just that.
"It honestly wasn't what I thought I was going to be doing throughout most of high school, but just in the last couple of years I realized that there were things I wanted to do with my career, and I wanted to help people. I wanted to go to a smaller school and so North Bay is where we're at."
Joyce says the love of basketball began at the age of six, playing in the driveway with her adopted brother.
"He was 14 at the time and was always into basketball. So, when he started playing, I just played in the driveway with him for a bit and then I started really getting into it. When I turned 10, I tried out for a competitive team, was not expecting to make it at all, but I did and I just kept going from there and played competitive ball and high school basketball for all those years. I think I knew in Grade 10 that I could be good enough to play university, so I just went with it and tried my best," she says.
Joyce says she looks up to and models her game after Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry and UConn women's basketball star Paige Bueckers. Both players play the same position and style of game that Joyce does, and she admires their skill and dedication to the sport.
"Bueckers is fast, shoots a lot and is a really great shooter. Last year, she tore her ACL, so she's coming off of her ACL recovery and so I look up to her as a player even more after that."
Joyce is looking forward to the season ahead and is eager to help lead the Lakers Women's Basketball team to success. "I'm grateful for Coach Van Woezik's guidance and support and for the amazing teammates I have, and I can't wait to see what we can accomplish together."
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